A help desk is a resource intended to provide the customer or end user with information and support related to a company's or institution's products and services. The purpose of a help desk is usually to troubleshoot problems or provide guidance about products such as computers, electronic equipment, food, apparel, or software. Corporations usually provide help desk support to their customers through various channels such as toll-free numbers, websites, instant messaging, or email. There are also in-house help desks designed to provide assistance to employees.
A typical help desk can effectively perform several functions. It provides a single point of contact for users to gain assistance in troubleshooting, get answers to questions, and solve known problems. A help desk generally manages its requests through the use of software such as issue tracking systems. These systems often involve the use of a "local bug tracker" (LBT). This system allows the help desk to track and sort user requests with the help of a unique number, and can frequently classify problems by user, computer program, or similar categories. Many software applications are available to support the help desk function. Some target the enterprise level help desk and some target departmental needs.
In the mid-1990s, research by Iain Middleton of Robert Gordon University studied the value of an organization's help desks. It found that value was derived not only from a reactive response to user issues, but also from the help desk's unique position of communicating daily with numerous customers or employees. Information gained in areas such as technical problems, user preferences, and satisfaction can be valuable for the planning and development work of other information technology units.